Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.
All this media hubbub about NY Rep. Weiner and his unfortunate, um, weiner, and his lovely but unfortunate (knocked-up) wife has me thinking about monogamy, and sexuality, and marriage, and the quite unrealistic cultural expectations we hold people to once they've slapped a ring on it and hunkered down for life with one sexual partner. Well, ostensibly with one partner. Right, Weiner? A year into your marriage, sweet thang, do you concur?
And then you mix that with the ongoing unfolding Ahhh-nuld lovechild drama and an embarrassed but proud Maria Shriver, and the recent grand jury indictment of John Edwards on felony charges for his allegedly using 2008 presidential campaign donations to keep mistress Rielle Hunter out of sight,
and all I can wonder is
when the hell are we gonna give people a break and realize that maybe, just maybe, the widespread cultural expectations that a marriage must equal lifelong sexual monogamy coupled with child-rearing coupled with being someone else's perpetual soulmate coupled with maintaining a functional economic unit that upholds the socioeconomic infrastructure
are maybe, just maybe, not fair? Or realistic? To anyone, really?
You can't get angry. You can't begrudge folks for being human. For having biological urges that transcend a little contemporary American social and religious construct called "heteronormative marriage." And so, while I can join so many others in turning to poor Weiner and Arnold and John to shake my head and wag my finger at them for being, well, stupid; honestly, I can't blame them. I can't. As much as they should've been smarter, or savvier, or more disciplined, or simply more proactive in getting out of their stagnant relationships, at the same time, I feel sorry for them. I feel sorry for them for being men possessing the undeniable kind of aphrodisiacal power that comes with vast wealth and fame, having to play by American heteronormative sexual rules, in a very public arena, and for suffering such vastly career-shattering consequences as the result of flouting those rules.
And their wives? The Humas and the Marias and the [rest sweetly in peace] Elizabeths? Well, I don't really know what to make of them, either. You feel terribly sorry for them first, of course, and embarrassed, too, and tragic. But you acknowledge, too, the possibility that maybe they were well aware of the cheating, and cool with it, or maybe they turned a blind eye, or who really knows, or cares, what kind of arrangement they might've found to make their unions relatively functional?
The point of all this, all of it, is that, once again, in taking it in, I find my fiery insides turning to exasperation, as I witness again our widespread cultural inability to apply the Buddhist truths of impermanence and non-clinging and non-attachment and clear-seeing as evidenced in relationships; in the way they change, in the way they rise and fall, in the way we can't cling to them for security any more than we can cling to a plank house in Joplin, Missouri in the middle of a tornado.
How many more sex scandals will it take until we finally begin to re-examine our unrealistic expectations for lifelong sexual monogamy? What will it take for us to finally approach, to seriously, kindly, lovingly, fearlessly approach alternate relationship models, non-heteronormative models that allow for more trust, more flexibility, more fluidity, less clinging, less fear?
I've been reading, and re-reading, a piece I wrote a year ago, similarly themed, after a parallel trio of sex scandals broke out in March of '10. And I'm reposting it here, now, in its entirety, because in spite of the swearing, in spite of the impatience, I find it still so relevant, so important, and maybe some part of me thinks, hopes, that if we say these things enough, out loud, over and over, those of us who appear by all accounts to be heteronormative and mindful and relatively mainstream, well, then maybe the rest of the folks in the mainstream who share such doubts about the functionality of the mainstream heteronormative monogamous marriage model might feel more brave in speaking out, less alone, more capable of living outside this one standard set-up that, as I imagine Weiner and Abedin and Schwarzenegger and and Shriver and Edwards might concur,
just. doesn't. work.
(March 19, 2010)
PET PEEVE: The American cultural blindness to and/or denial of the fact that relationships arise and die, and that this kind of change is normal, and natural, and not to be feared.
Also known as: clinging.
Irritable. It could be because this morning was my first practice back with Rusty and the yoga hurt like hell in ways it hasn't hurt in months. A week away, plus lots of wine lunches and vodka evenings and sugary late-nights, will do that to a girl. Add in several long plane flights and a helluva lot of time spent sitting on trains and in cars and this body's a big crunchy ball of pain. It's a humbling reminder that we are always beginners in this practice, no matter how long we've been doing it or how gracefully we've finally come to pronounce the Sanskrit; every day it is new; every day it begins.
Anyway - irritable, yes, for that reason. But even moreso, irritable because once again the newspapers and the tabloids and the evening entertainment programs are splashed with SHOCK! and DISBELIEF! and SENSATION! at the oh-so-visible recent implosions of several ostensibly rock-solid celebrity unions, all featuring bona fide artistes and romantic acceptance speeches and nicely-timed photo ops. Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes, the lovely Brit thespian couple: dunzo. Sandra Bullock and Jesse James, she of the recent Oscar win and he of the badass tats countering her America's Sweetheart image: dunzo. And of course this morning offered more of the latest dish on Tiger Woods's broken marriage, too, what with the release of even more salacious text messages from Tiger's porn-star ladyfriend Joslyn James.
People. Seriously. WHY ARE WE SURPRISED. Sorry to scream, but this bugs the shit outta me. What I would give to douse this culture in a nice big bucket of Buddhist wisdom on relationships and impermanence and transience and flux and change, that rich cross-religious teaching that all things arise and fade away - bodies, homes, relationships, all - and that all beginnings end in separation, be it of the less permanent "break-up" variety or of the more definitive "death" variety. It's normal. It's natural. Lives begin and end and we build them in the process, planting seeds, and they take root and flower and bloom in the radiant sunshine of May or June, maybe, and then the leaves brown and wither and fall off and the branches are bleak and barren come November or so, and whaddya know, they burst forth in new buds the next spring again, like Mother Nature's very own clockwork. It's how shit works. We know this. We are lucky to be reminded of this every freaking year.
And not just Buddhism teaches us this; we see the same theme, in much the same words, in Christian process theologies, too, with their emphasis on quantum physics and the perpetual state of change that is a Reality always in process, always becoming, and we see it in earth religions, in Wicca and pagan traditions rooted in the seasons and nature and that overarching blooming process that is being alive ("we come from dust and to dust we shall return"), and we see it in Native American religions, and in feminist incarnations of this, too, with their emphases on circularity and cycles and seasons and perpetuity and the natural process of death and decay.
So why the fuck do we fail so consistently to apply this knowledge to our own relationships?? Are we so naive, so blind, so hopelessly idealistic and ungrounded in reality, are we so desperate for a pseudo-solid ground to stand on, some illusion of security, that to engage the reality of impermanence engenders too much fear to possibly bear?? Why are we shocked when our loving decays, when it morphs, when it moves, when it shifts, when it's given us the luscious gifts it was meant to give and then it passes on, fades softly away, having fulfilled its duty? Don't we know how much beauty comes from the breaking, the shift, the opening up, the crevices cracking forth to make space for new seeds to fall?
Maybe Kate and Sam got what they needed to out of their union. A kid or two, some rich artistic collaboration, "Revolutionary Road." Maybe desire got the better of them. It's perpetual, this craving, we know this, yeah? Tiger knows it, that's fer damn sure. Why do we resist that? Why don't we just chill out and breathe into it and know that perpetual changing desire is normal and ok and safe, something we can sit with, something we don't need to fear? Right, Jesse? That maybe you and Sandra got what you needed to out of what you had; maybe it was time for you and the tattoo'd chick to get it on; who knows, who can say, but the one thing we can say, with such great surety - well, maybe the two things - are:
"You only lose what you cling to." ~ Buddha
“You must not for one instant give up the effort to build new lives for yourselves. Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway to life. This is not an easy struggle. Indeed, it may be the most difficult task in the world, for opening.”
~ Daisaku Ikeda, Japanese peace activist and Buddhist leader of Soka Gakkai International
That first one, well, it's obvious. (Insert pithy line here about how relationships are like sand and the more tightly you grip them, the more you lose.) This is why we study clinging and non-grasping and aparigraha in the immaterial sense; this is why we study impermanence and change; it's rich across traditions and implicit in Buddhism and yogic theory especially. It takes practice, reminding; intense, perpetual, mindful, humbling practice, every day, every breath, a letting go, a loosening of the ties.
The second one, the Ikeda, well, I love it for its insistence on our own agency in building our own lives, our own Edens, a claiming of our own responsibility for pushing open that "heavy, groaning doorway to life." (Insert here pithy reference to the overused-but-deserving Anais Nin quote about how "the day came when the risk to remain in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to bloom.") I love it for its understanding that opening, blooming, creating is not effortless; and I love it for its reminder that creativity in particular comes from change and implosion and breaking and cracking.
On that note, I'd bet money that Kate and Sam and Sandra and their ilk will get a helluva lot of great art out of these current breaking-downs. That this present shattering will lend a greater wisdom, a new birth, to their artistic creations to come. I'm less certain about the effect of this latest implosion on Tiger's golf game, the destruction therein of his brand and his affiliations and his endorsements and certainly of his marriage itself; but maybe the lesson for all of us, here, so saturated in this Western insistence upon the lifelong marital bond that is somehow supposed to withstand the ancient universal law of flux and change and death and rebirth, is that relationships come and go, they bloom and wither, and it's ok, it's normal, that even the best of us, the most Botoxed and most beautiful, the most wealthy and the most worshiped, must take solace, find a home in, rest in, that inevitable transience, as well.